Soothe your baby

Dr Miriam Stoppard explains your baby's cries

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All babies cry quite a lot, and the chances are that yours will too. There will be times when the reason for his crying is obvious and easily remedied; he’s hungry, too hot or cold, bored, has a wet or dirty nappy, or he might simply want cuddles. However, parents often fail to recognise that a baby is crying because he is tired or that very young babies cry when they are disturbed, roughly handled or when they get a shock. Investigate your baby’s crying and don’t worry too much about it – crying is almost his only way of communicating his needs.

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Give him what he wants

I believe you should respond quickly to your baby’s cry. If you don’t then your baby feels just as you would if you were being ignored in a conversation. There is a considerable amount of research to show that mothers who respond quickly to crying are likely to have children with advanced communication skills, including speech. Babies who are ignored cry more often and for longer in the first year than babies who are attended to quickly. A young baby has a limitless capacity for soaking up love; there’s no way you can spoil a baby by giving him attention in his first year.

Night-time crying

There is no doubt that every parent finds crying spells hard to cope with, especially during the night. Don’t get frustrated because your child doesn’t respond to your attempts to soothe him. Try walking up and down with him in your arms or singing to him softly. During the night, your baby’s crying may make you feel irritated. Don’t worry, this doesn’t make you a bad mother. These feelings are quite normal!

Ways to soothe your baby

If your baby seems fretful, even after your best efforts to soothe him, try some (or all) of the following remedies as part of your repertoire of crying cures.

  • Any movement that rocks him, whether it is you holding and rocking him in your arms, going gently back and forth on a swing, or rocking him in a cradle or rocking chair.
  • Walking or dancing, with an emphasis on rhythmic movement, since it will remind him of the time when he was being jogged inside your womb.
  • Bouncing him gently in your arms, the cot or on the bed.
  • Putting him in a sling and walking around with him.
  • Taking him for a ride in the car, or for a walk outside in the pram, often helps soothe your baby – and saves your sanity!
  • Any form of music as long as it is calm, rhythmic and not too loud; try specially recorded sleeping MP3s and CDs.
  • A noisy toy that your baby can shake or rattle.
  • A steady household noise, such as the humming of the washing machine or the dish washer.
  • Your own soft singing voice can be soothing, so practise your lullabies.

Common crying triggers

Most babies dislike being undressed; it puts them through unfamiliar movements and they hate the feel of cold air on their skin. Undress your baby as little as possible in the first few weeks and, when you do, keep up a running commentary of reassuring baby chatter.

If your baby is crying because he has been startled by a jerky movement, sudden noise or bright light, hold him close, rocking him gently and singing to him, avoiding any sudden movements.

Babies can suffer from loneliness. You’ll know if this is the case with your baby if he stops crying as soon as you pick him up – he just wants comfort and a cuddle. It helps if you carry him in a sling or shawl, or if you lay him across your lap, tummy down, and massage his back.

Coping with colic

Colic is the name for bouts of unexplained crying, and they usually occur in the late afternoon or evening. Your baby’s face becomes red, his legs are drawn up to his abdomen, and his fists are clenched.

Colic generally stops by the age of three or four months, is rarely serious, and needs no treatment. It is not known what causes colic, but it usually starts in the first three weeks of a baby’s life. It is well recognised that colicky babies are quite healthy and continue to thrive. Of course, you should try to soothe your baby, but don’t expect him to respond readily. Don’t be afraid to ask for support if you find it hard to cope with.

Are dummies safe to use?

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Many new parents feel confused about whether to give their baby a dummy or not. Current research suggests that there may be a reduced risk of cot death if a baby uses a dummy while falling asleep. Experts agree that if you do use a dummy, you should wean your baby off it by the time he’s six months old.

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